We have neglected the public space in our towns and cities for to long. The gaps between things are a playground. Previously belonging to a mixed crowd of free runners, urban artists and open air sleepers, the wider population are starting to reclaim these civic spaces.
This is often started with a series of temporary interventions which inspire future use or become permanent themselves. Gabriel’s Wharf was a set of garages temporarily reinvented as shops, but has become a key part of London’s riverbank life. It’s a rare space given over entirely to small, independent shops, galleries and cafes in an area where property prices are high. More importantly, it’s informal, creating a courtyard that’s at once full of life but also calm and quiet.
Just along from that community-led public space, the big boys are starting to reinvent their spaces.
The solid concrete architecture of the National Theatre is being softened by a series of temporary interventions. There’s a pop up workshop, housing a programme of workshops from June til September. And Propstore is a riverfront bar made from old sets, scenery and props. It’s a good looking space, as long as you forget the craziness of building a pretend empty building in a city full of real ones.
And the Southbank Centre has been transformed with a series of pop up parks, cafes and artspaces which take the site right back to its original Festival of Britain beginnings.
There are new steps and gardens opening up access to rear of the Hayward Gallery, and a temporary street food cafe. Stages, gardens, art installations, tents; every corner of the Southbank Centre site is reinvented, and invested with new meaning. The pop ups bring colour, life and creativity to the Southbank Centre, and are complemented by signs, banners and flags that show how good the brutalist concrete can look when it’s cared for.
All the temporary interventions have highlighted how underused this key site is, and how much potential there is in neglected public spaces around the site. It’s hard to see the South Bank ever returning to being just solid, bricks-and-mortar establishments now.